Monday 23 April 2018

Review - Etto: 'I can't think of a single thing I would change about Etto'

Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2, (01) 678 8872

Top score: Etto in Dublin
Top score: Etto in Dublin

Katy McGuinness

It's no secret that Etto is my favourite restaurant - in Dublin, in Ireland, in the world.

Ever since I instigated my own ad hoc and completely unofficial end of year plaque-free restaurant awards a couple of years ago, I've given Etto the 'Spending My Own Money' award, which I consider to be the highest accolade of all.

Now, I don't expect sympathy when I moan about having to go out to eat, but sometimes I'd much prefer to be eating a boiled (organic) egg and (seasonal Irish asparagus) soldiers in the kitchen than I would be trotting out to a new restaurant. But Etto is different. If anyone ever wants me to go to Etto with them, I'm on. (It'll only take five minutes for me to get there.)

As a result, I've eaten there on numerous occasions since it opened back in 2013. It is my family's favourite restaurant, too, and we go there for birthdays and anniversaries and even if we don't have a particular reason but just a yearning for the best cote de boeuf in the city. (This happens quite often.)

But occasionally when I'm making small talk with people whom I don't know very well, and I tell them what I do and they ask me where my favourite Dublin restaurant is, and I say "Etto', they have never heard of it. And that is a terrible shame.

And so, because it's been a couple of years since I last reviewed Etto, and despite the temptation to try to maintain rather than increase the current level of difficulty in securing a table at short notice, the fact that there is a cohort of people who have yet to learn of its existence and to experience the joy of eating there convinces me that this is the right thing to do.

On this occasion, we went for lunch, which - it has to be said - is a complete and utter bargain at two courses for €20 and three for €25. (At night, the same menu is offered for pre-theatre, and costs €24/€28.)

Aside from the fact that the menu changes subtly from day to day, depending on the availability of ingredients, while some signature dishes (the cote de boeuf and the red wine prunes, of which more later) are constant, one of the things that I particularly like about Etto is that the dishes on the set menu are ones that appear on the à la carte dinner menu also, and there is no sense of being palmed off with dishes involving cheaper ingredients.

By way of example, the starter of deer carpaccio with artichoke, pickled pear and juniper on the set lunch menu, is priced at €14 on the à la carte. It's a gorgeous dish, simple yet carefully considered, and in that it epitomises chef Paul McNamara's approach which seems to me to be resolutely unpretentious, and with flavour always the first priority. (That's not to say that the food doesn't look beautiful too, because it does.)

Stracciatella (a stretchy buffalo milk cheese from Apulia in the south of Italy) with celeriac crisps, truffle honey (OMG!), toasted hazelnuts and lovage is my current favourite, luxurious and multi-textured, while the third starter, mussels with samphire, nduja and leek, often on the menu in one variant form or another, is punchy and satisfying, with generous hunks of griddled Le Levain sourdough to mop up the copious juices.

By way of main course, two of us had the comforting braised short-rib with elegant leaves of crisp cavolo nero, pickled walnuts and a single chunky chip of polenta, while luncher No 3 chose the gnocchi with onion squash, topped by a breaded and deep-fried egg, that oozed perfectly when pierced, and a smattering of nutty chanterelles.

You can't go to Etto and not eat the red wine prunes and vanilla mascarpone, and we didn't. I'm happy to report that they are as delicious as ever.

Liz Matthews and Simon Barrett, the couple who run front of house, have an entirely lovely, friendly, knowledgeable team on the floor and there are rarely new faces, which I take to be a good sign.

The bill for lunch for three (two of us having two courses, and one having three), a bottle of Roeno Marzemino (perfect lunch wine as the ABV is only 12pc), plus sparkling water and a double macchiato came to €111.50 before service.

In the interests of full disclosure, it was my son's birthday, so the lovely staff - who know him well - brought him a barley malt pannacotta with poached clementines for colour and flavour and honeycomb for crunch and sugared pistachios for general loveliness and a candle by way of celebration. This did not appear on the bill, and neither did his Aperol spritz.

Etto did the candle thing for the adjacent birthday table too, so it wasn't favouritism, and the next day one of the young women who'd been sitting there tagged me in her Insta post.

"You know when you're sitting beside your absolute food heroine @katymcguinness [apologies for boasting, but I think that's the nicest thing that anyone's ever said about me on social media] that you've picked the right place for your birthday lunch. Absolutely amazing food in Etto, can't wait to come back."

See? It's not just me. Everyone loves Etto and I can't think of a single thing that I would change about it, hence the perfect score.

THE RATING

10/10 food

10/10 ambience

10/10 value for money

30/30

ON A BUDGET

The worker's lunch is €15; it's often a plate of pasta, perhaps orecchiette, with nduja, cherry tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan.

ON A BLOW OUT

A few snacks (I recommend the olives, smoked almonds, and crispy pork and veal stuffed olives, which are amazing), followed by a couple of starters, the cote de boeuf with sides, dessert and cheese, would mean a bill of around €140 for two before drinks or service.

THE HIGH POINT

Etto just keeps getting better.

THE LOW POINT

That I can't justify lunch there every day.

Weekend Magazine

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life